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Jörg Demus (1928)



 
 


R-199-39: Schubert Piano Sonata in B flat Opus posthumous.





Remington R-199-108/3 Bach's Six Partitas performed by Sari Biro, Jörg Demus and John Gillespie

Franz Schubert's Moments Musicaux Op. 94 revisited in 1958 (together with Impromptus Op.posthumous) on Deutsche Grammophon SLPM 139 310.


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When Jörg Demus made his debut in New York in the mid nineteen fifties, his name was not new to the music loving public in America as, from 1950 on, his earliest recordings had been available in the US, and exclusively on the Remington label of Don Gabor. Of course the recordings were made in Austria and were produced by Marcel Prawy who arranged for the recordings of not only Jörg Demus but many other pianists, violinists and cellists, and he was responsible for the recordings with the Viennese Symphonic Orchestra which often was also called Niederössterreichisches Tonkünstler Orchester and Austrian Symphony Orchestra.

Right from the first releases on Remington, the interpretations of Jörg Demus were loved because of the sensitivity of playing and the perfect phrasing, and they were admired because of his superb technique. And all this despite the often less than perfect (to put it mildly) matrix production and pressings of so many a Remington disc.
 

Yet, one cannot resist being captivated by the spell of Jörg Demus's playing of the Partitas 1 and 6 of J.S. Bach, his equally distinctive rendering of Ballades Nos. 3 and 4 of Chopin, and his fine performance of the Schubert Sonata Opus Posthumous. There is no bravura, there is no spectacularity, but a restrained inner passion. If his interpretations need to be called spectacular it is because of the complete absence of demonstrative pianism, overly loud climaxes and the absence of peculiar tempi.
On the contrary. His performances take the listener far beyond the score. He transcends the music, dematerializes it, while touching the inner core of the composition, the essence, all shells having been peeled off.

No wonder music critic Warren Demotte characterized the Remington record of the Schubert Sonata Opus Posthume as follows: "Demus is in excellent form, technically and interpretively; it is a pleasure to acknowledge the maturity of his playing. This is one of Remington's best records."
And about the Chopin Ballades he wrote: "Demus promises much for the future in his sensitive performances of the Third and Fourth Ballades"
About the Beethoven Sonatas: "Demus, in his early twenties, has astonishing poetic maturity." And of Schubert's Moments Musicaux Demotte commented: "Demus's playing is warm and caressing, characteristics that are especially attractive in such a young pianist."

Jorg Demus Image taken from Westminster WN 18044 edited by R.A.B.
Jorg Demus at the time when his earliest recordings were released on Remington Records and when he subsequently recorded for Westminster.
Image taken from Westminster WN 18044 with Mozart Sonatas and Andante for two pianos/four hands with Paul Badura-Skoda which were originally released in 1951 on Westminster WL 5060 and WL 5069 respectively, edited by R.A.B.

Another critic, Cecil Smith of the New Republic, wrote in the April 23, 1951 edition:


"Jorg Demus and Alexander Jenner, neither of whom I ever heard of, appear to be the best of Remington's pianists. Mr. Demus plays Schubert's Moments Musicaux, Op. 94, with a buoyant lilt, and gives musicianly accounts of two Beethoven sonatas, Op. 109 and Op. 110. He plays the Fifth French Suite of Bach with skill and clarity, though this music sounds much better on the harpsichord. Mr. Jenner offers sensitive and attractive performances of the Chopin Etudes Op. 25. In all these records the piano sounds reasonably well, though not as well as it can in the best full-price products".


Jörg Demus Beethoven Sonatas

There is some confusion among biographers and encyclopedists about the actual date of birth of Jorg Demus. Some state December 2nd 1928. A Dutch encyclopedia mentions March 2nd 1926 in the short biography. And yet another source calls March 2nd 1928 as date of birth, while the liner notes of Westminster WN 18044 mentions February 2nd 1929. Most of these could be caused by misreading the handwriting of one or more clerks or producers/researcher preparing the liner notes or the entries in an encyclopedia. This matter still has to be cleared.

Jörg Demus was born in Sankt Pölten in Niederösterreich and at the age of six he commenced the study of the piano. At the early age of eleven he was admitted to the "Viennese State Academy for Music and Dramatic Art" (currently 'Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst'). He made his debut at the "Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde" (Society of Friends of Music) in Vienna when he was fourteen years old. He studied composition with composer Joseph Marx, and piano and theory with Walter Kerschbaumer - significant and familiar names for so many students of that era. He also studied organ, with Karl Walter, conducting with no less than Josef Krips and also composition with Johann Nepomuk David.
He also studied with Edwin Fischer, Walter Gieseking, Yves Nat and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. He concertized at the Vienna Konzerthaus and traveled to give performances in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, England, Germany, and South America. In 1956 he won the "Busoni Prize" and two years later he was awarded the "Harriet Cohen-Bach Medal" in London.

The Remington recordings led to the contract with Westminster and by 1958 Demus had already a long list of discs to his name with solo recordings, chamber music and a few concertos. On his repertory: Beethoven, Franck, Mozart (with Paul Badura-Skoda), Schmidt, and an extensive list of works by Schubert.
In the nineteen sixties Joerg Demus began recording for Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft as soloist, in chamber music ensembles, and as an accompanist of a.o. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Schubert).

He also accompanied Elly Ameling, made recordings on original instruments for the BASF and Harmonia Mundi labels, accompanied Peter Schreier (Haydn Songs - Eterna label) on Eurodisk, performed again Bach, and recorded the complete piano music of Claude Debussy. To hear Beethoven and Schubert being played on a Hammerklavier is not for everyone a treat because many pianists do not master the old instruments sufficiently to perform the music with a large palette of color and dynamics. It suffice to hear Jörg Demus playing a William Stodart piano to know that his style is rich in sound and has many nuances.

Jörg Demus receives The Beethoven Ring, presented to him by Mr. Klemens Kramert, President of the Viennese Beethoven Society (Wiener Beethoven Gesellschaft).
(Picture taken from the Eurodisc 2 LP gatefold, reference 300 054-406, edited by R.A.B.).

A specific proof of Jörg Demus's art of interpretation was recorded on March 27th, 1977, when he received The Beethoven Ring (earlier only presented to pianist Elly Ney and conductor Volkmar Andreae). Demus performed before a live audience the Sonatas Nos. 8 (Pathétique), 17 (Der Sturm), 26 (Les Adieux) and No. 32. After hearing the first bars of the Sonata Pathétique, or the introduction of 'Les Adieux' one realizes how distinguished the approach of the maestro is and that it is completely in line with his early recordings from the nineteen fifties: refined phrasing and subtle dynamics. Although a performance before a live public represents a challenge, it can be said that he masters the score in an intimate, yet affirmative way.

The Remington discography of Jörg Demus:

R-149-12 Chopin: Ballades No. 3 in A flat major Op. 47 and No. 4 in F minor Op. 52 (also released on the Merit label: M1-18).
R-149-21 Schubert: Moments Musicaux Op. 94, D 780.

Jörg Demus Schubert Moments Musicaux
Jörg Demus - Bach French Suite No. 5

R-199-25 Bach: French Suite No. 5 and Partita No. 1 (Concerteum CR241)
R-199-29 Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 30 (Op. 109) and 31 (Op. 110) (Concerteum CR 239)
R-199-39 Schubert: Piano Sonata Opus Posthumous (Concerteum 310)
R-199-92 Bach: Partita No. 6 and Preludes and Fugues in G Major and G Minor from The Well Tempered Clavier (Das Wohltemperierte Clavier); in France issued on Concerteum 309.
R-199-108/3 Bach's Six Partitas performed by Jörg Demus on piano (Nos. 1 and 6), Sari Biro on piano (No. 2) and pianist/harpsichordist John Gillespie on harpsichord (Nos. 3, 4 and 5).

At the end of World War II harpsichordist John Gillespie spent two years at the "Conservatoire national de Paris", studying organ with André Marchal and Marcel Dupré. He later returned to Paris for two years of study at the Sorbonne. He completed his studies in the US and received the Ph.D. in musicology in 1951.

Rudolf A. Bruil, March 17th, 2005

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